Looking within: how memories of home helped me travel from loneliness into light by Grace

Looking within: how memories of home helped me travel from loneliness into light by Grace

*This article was originally published on gal-dem in September 2022*

This essay is part of a collection of personal essays from gal-dem, written and spoken by migrant domestic workers living in the UK. These are their stories, in English and Filipino, written in their words.

While I’m away from home, working in another country, whenever I see the seaside or the beach, memories of my hometown rush back…

I grew up in a place full of natural beauty: a white beach in the north of Cebu, Philippines. I spent all of my time as a kid playing by the sea. Even after the sun sunk below the sea and nighttime came crawling in, we weren’t scared; the sea was so bright and the light of the moon guided us along its shores. These are the happiest memories of my childhood that I’ll never forget.

I moved to London in 2013. I was so fascinated just watching people, surveying my surroundings: the houses lined up along each other, identical in structure and colour. Walking in a park that was so vast with the whole city surrounding me from every corner was so beautiful. When I heard people speak, I liked listening to their British accent. I had only heard them in movies before and I never imagined I would ever hear it in person. It was a dream for me initially, but then, that dream turned into a nightmare.

“I wanted to scream but I couldn’t”

I was working for abusive employers and it was a living nightmare in their house, and I felt like I had nowhere to hide. It was a nightmare I could not wake up from. It was hard to breathe, I felt like I was suffocating. I wanted to talk, but I couldn’t. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t. For the first time, I wanted to curse this beautiful place. I began to ask: why me? I had never taken advantage of others. I had a fear of God. So, why me? I just wanted to have a better life for my family.

People say, “there is always light at the end of the tunnel.” And I was going through my own long and very dark tunnel. The darkness pervaded for two years, until 2015. “Be patient and pray and you can get out of the horrible situation,” I remembered telling myself. God heard my prayers and I did escape from the horrible people who were abusing me.

Even after I escaped, when I was free and felt like I could breathe again, I found myself facing new trials. As I walked, I noticed people looking at me like I was an alien. I couldn’t speak ‘proper’ British English and it made me feel so exposed, so small. I pitied myself. I was so hopeless. I asked myself, where could I go to seek help? I didn’t know anyone in this beautiful country. I was so confused and I didn’t know what to do.

“I was at peace when I closed my eyes”

But in the midst of it all, I tried to calm myself down by thinking about the past, until I arrived at a beach in my imagination. I stayed there and made myself breathe. I gave myself time to think. I felt relieved. I could almost feel the breeze tickling my arm hairs, making me loosen up. I could taste the salty water. I could smell the sweetness of the wind coming from the sea. I was at peace when I closed my eyes. I could forget all my worries, my pain, my homesickness. I felt like I was home.

It gave me a moment of tranquillity, even though I knew that it was only temporary. When I opened my eyes, I found the strength to look at the reality that stood before me and remembered that I needed to move forward.

Every time I heard the piercing siren of ambulances, firefighter trucks and police cars, a shiver would run through my entire body. I always instantly assumed that they were coming to capture me and put me in prison. If I went to jail, what would happen to my kids? They rely on me. If something happened to me, they would be made homeless straight away, because I’ve been the only one providing for their needs.

At first, I didn’t make any friends as I was afraid that they would report me to the authorities once they learned about my situation. I was always alone because I never trusted anyone. I hid in my comfort zone and didn’t live a life. I was constantly scared, to the point I almost died because I couldn’t go to the GP to check up on my health. Finally, I realised I couldn’t keep going like this and I needed to find a different way to live.

“For the first time in this country, I found people who understood me”

Luckily, I found a community that helped me. A Filipina woman that I met at the bus stop introduced me to The Voice of Domestic Workers (TVoDW). She told me that the TVoDW could help undocumented people like me, that they could help tell me more about my rights in this country and how I could move forward. At first I was hesitant to reach out, wary that another unfortunate situation would arise from it. But they accepted me. They never asked personal questions and they waited until I opened up about my problems in my own time. And I saw that I wasn’t alone. I felt relieved. For the first time in this country, I found people who understood me. They embraced me as a human, as a friend and a family.

I have now found true friends who I know that I can rely on, a second family that is always here for me. They empower me and teach me. I’ve become more sociable and they have lightened the heavy burden of my pain and worries. We empower each other and help each other fight for our rights that I never knew I had. I thought that I would stay weak and hopeless, and never use my voice. I was wrong. I can be strong and loud, and show my personality. In the many years since I joined TVoDW, I have learned to speak up and fight for my rights, together with my friends. We empower each other to be strong women. My life is easier now, with people around me to share it with. I can enjoy life without worries and breathe freely.

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